Wisconsin Senate to approve unemployment extension

Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Senate Republicans plan to reverse a vote they took last week to support eliminating a waiting period for receiving unemployment benefits in order for a bill to pass that extends federal benefits for 13 weeks.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said Monday that the Senate would be in session Aug. 1 to pass the version of the bill approved by the GOP-controlled Assembly that extends the benefits, but also keeps the waiting period in place.

Consideration of the waiting period, which starts in January, can come later in a separate bill, said Fitzgerald spokesman Andrew Welhouse.

"The most important piece at the moment is the 13-week extension, so we'll pass that now and keep talking about the one-week waiting period," Welhouse said.

The politically charged vote will take place just eight days before half-a-dozen Republican incumbents are up for recall elections. Two Democratic incumbents face recalls Aug. 16.

That waiting period was part of the state budget passed by the Legislature in June. It's estimated to save the state around $50 million. Extending the $88 million in federal unemployment benefits doesn't cost the state anything.

Senate Democrats proposed eliminating the waiting period and surprisingly Republicans, in a voice vote, supported adding it to the bill extending the benefits. The bill passed on a bipartisan 30-3 vote.

However, the Assembly wouldn't go along with eliminating the waiting period.

That put the entire bill in limbo, because it must pass both houses in identical form before going to Gov. Scott Walker.

The governor supports extending the benefits but opposes doing away with the waiting period.

Fitzgerald was under pressure both from Democrats and the Republican sponsor of the bill to act quickly so the federal benefits could be in place for jobless workers. Under the bill, the benefits would be available retroactively to April.

The Democratic leader in the Senate, Sen. Mark Miller of Monona, issued a statement accusing Republicans of hurting working people by not doing away with the waiting period.

"Whether someone has just lost their job or has been unable to find work for an extended period of time these benefits are critical to helping people," Miller said.

The Republican bill sponsor, Sen. Van Wanggaard of Racine, said it was more important to ensure benefits were in place to help people who had been out of work for months as opposed to those who just lost their job.

"I do not believe a one-week delay would be catastrophic to someone who just lost their job," Wanggaard said. The priority, Wanggaard said, was getting the extension passed.

The extension, which kicks in after people have been out of work for 73 weeks, was estimated to help up to 40,000 unemployed people in Wisconsin. The benefits are worth up to $363 a week.

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